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Why is the division of labor considered to be a bad or unwanted thing? (or is it?)

0 votes
From what I've read on this site, the division of labor is viewed as some unwanted thing.  Is this correct?  Too simplistic?  Is there anything considered bad/coercive/wrong about the following?

You are very talented at farming/foraging for food but you're not very good at making clothes.  I am unable to produce enough food for myself but I am very skilled at making clothes.  You and I come to an agreement where you produce extra food, I produce extra clothes and we trade with each other.  

From the admittedly limited bit I've read here, this would both be a bad thing (I need food to live and you have food that would allow me to live, so you are exercising some sort of control or authority or whatever over me.  On the other hand, you need clothes to live and I have clothes that would allow you to live so I am exercising some sort of control or authority or whatever over you) and a good thing (trade doesn't appear to be viewed as a negative thing in general and the both of us are helping each other which allows us to continue living).  So am I misunderstanding this?  Are we defining things differently?
asked Jan 3, 2014 by anonymous
Why would these two people trade? What is the division of labor and how do the problems of mass society impact these two individuals so horribly their only relationship is based on commodity exchange?
I believe I've answered your first question in my original post.  They're trading because they are incapable of adequately producing for their own survival what the other is well skilled at producing.  Guy A ("you") are good at producing food.  Guy B ("I/me") am good at producing clothes.  Guy A does not produce clothes well enough for his survival and Guy B does not produce food well enough for his survival.  Guy A and Guy B talk, discover they are good a producing what the other is bad at producing and decide to trade.

I'm not sure how your other two questions are relevant.  Why does the nature of their relationship or the foundation of that relationship matter?  What does "mass society" have to do with this?

EDIT: Hope that doesn't sound attacking.  It's not meant to be.
there is a huge difference between the expertise/experience/skills that an individual has, and what they choose to do with those skills.

the op's scenario describes 1) people with different sets of skills, and 2) one particular way that those skills can be utilized and - key point here - assigned value.

"division of labor", as i understand it, is pretty much enforced/required by the techno-industrial world humans have created.  much (most?) of the crap that is produced by modern industry could not possibly be produced by one individual, even with a very abundant skill set (nor without destroying major natural shared resources and habitats). large scale industry requires authoritarian relations and the oppression of many living beings; hard to imagine that the division of labor that such industry requires does not have a similar impact.

the fact that everybody does not have the skills to do everything they might want to do, does NOT imply a division of labor. it simply implies that people need to figure out how to get what they cannot produce themselves, or do without.

3 Answers

+4 votes
basically, what hpw said.
to flesh it out a bit more...
unlike the way some people use these terms "division of labor," "trade," "capitalism," etc, not all aspects of these concepts can be reduced to what two individuals do with each other.
so to me "division of labor" doesn't mean that two people are good at different things, and take advantage of that, it means that groups of people are assigned tasks as part of an "efficient running of society".

here are sites that back that up:
the second one gets at more of the point, and references marx and engel's input on the topic.

the same principle goes for trade.

ancaps are particularly notorious for attempting to simplify everything that happens in society for interactions between two people. it is perhaps the most significant (or maybe just the most obvious) flaw in their thinking.
answered Jan 3, 2014 by dot (52,030 points)
Regarding your definition and those linked, I find them to be at least partially incorrect from an empirical standpoint.  I chose to be in the IT industry because I was most interested in learning about computers and networks.  Nothing was assigned to me - it was quite literally a hobby I chose to learn more about.  There isn't a person or group that assigns jobs to everyone, those things are chosen (for whatever reason) by the individual.  At the very least we should be able to agree that there is no organized body assigning labor roles to people.  My definition of division of labor does not include the assignment of roles but people simply exchanging what they're good at producing for what they're not good at producing (essentially this is a barter situation but it's easier to exchange what you produce for an intermediary thing that other people are willing to exchange for, too - hence, "money").  

I'm not sure I understand how your principle applies to trade.  Could you elaborate?

I disagree that simplification is a flaw in reasoning.  It's not meant to be a perfect analogy but one that can demonstrate or explore a particular idea.  Whether my analogy perfectly modeled all 7+ billion humans on earth (impossible) or a few million, hundred thousand, hundred, etc., my question would still remain.  There are people that are good at producing some things necessary for survival and bad at producing other things necessary for survival.  Is it considered bad or wrong or whatever for them to trade the things some people want/need for the things they want/need?  It sounds like the answer is "no, that is perfectly acceptable."  Is that correct to some degree?

Again, the intarwebz is a great forum for extracting tone and attitude where none exist so I hope this isn't being taken as some sort of attack.
again. there doesn't have to be a body of people or an individual deciding where people are going to go. that you go to that as the only way that people are coerced into doing things is one reason i doubt you and i will find meaningful common ground.
however, i will add this. there are structures, from schools to jobs to media and so on, that encourage/force (not force like at knife point, but force like "this is how the world is structured/you can't fight city hall") what kinds of jobs are available, and what one has to do to get them. you can argue that if someone cares enough then they can get outside of those boxes, and maybe sometimes that's true, but that hardly negates the overwhelming tendency of the society.

yes, i understand the point of an analogy. i'm saying that your analogy doesn't work for the answers that i find appropriate to your question. i am also trying to point out (as hpw did also) that you are making assumptions (like what trade means, and what division of labor means, but not limited to those) that i, for one, don't accept.

believe me, this is not an argument. we don't agree enough to be arguing with each other.

edited for clarity.
Perhaps we won't find common ground.  I assume you're OK with that, just as I am.  I'm not here looking to find common ground on our differences.  I don't care to reduce our definitions of anarchy to some common theme in hopes that we can superficially seem to be seeking the same end.  I'm sincerely looking to understand your perspective and hopefully discover how it's different from mine.  We define some terms differently but I don't necessarily think that's a difference in philosophy.  If we agree to use your definition of "division of labor" and label my definition "helpful exchange" or something, it wouldn't change the nature or meaning of our respective philosophies.  If you and anyone else here are willing to discuss this with that understanding (that the definitions of the terms we use are not readily agreed upon between us) I think it'd go along way in at least clearing up the miscommunication between ancaps and an*'s on this site.  If not, then I'll just continue to ask questions until I feel I have a better understanding, you ask me to go away or I'm banned.  

So, assuming you or anyone else cares to continue the discussion...

 I see where we differ in the definition of "division of labor" but I don't know where we differ in the term "trade."  I use "trade" and "exchange" interchangeably.  Do you find the two distinctly different?  How/why?  

I also have a question on the definition of "force."  You used the term to describe a situation in which "society" tries to persuade you to do certain things or act/be a certain way based on convention and populist thought (I assume).  In short, you described pressure from a collective to behave and act according to what the collective decided was "right" or appropriate.  Do I understand that correctly?
i appreciate that you're here in good faith. but i'm going to get bored soon. just sayin'.
for the moment... "collective" to me means a group of people who want to associate with each other, and does not in any way describe a group on the level of a society or a culture (the former of which certainly implies that it is too large to be easily swayed -- or swayed at all -- by an individual or a small group).
but endless back and forth about how we define things differently is just not interesting to me.
and no, of course i am fine with us not having common ground, but more to the point -- conversations where there is, shall i call it "scientific curiosity" (at best) on both sides, is insufficient for a conversation that is meaningful or relevant to me.
but there are others on this site. perhaps one of them will find this more engaging than i do.
So, for you, the difference between a collective and a society or culture is a matter of degree?  Is there a quantifiable point at which a collective becomes society?  

Appreciate your responses.  (I don't expect you'll answer the above questions based on your previous post but I thought I'd ask anyway in case you or someone else wants to respond to them)
not *just* degree, but yes, degree and scale and time all go in to the difference.
books that might be good to read, if you're up for that sort of thing...
society of the spectacle, (online)
revolution of everyday life, (online)
demotivational training (not online)
+4 votes
Ummm, yeah NA you're probably on the wrong website, or you need a crash course in what is obviously happening everyday in your life.

1) Capital is a relation between people, it defines a material community where everything, including you, have a price to be bought and sold in the marketplace.

2) Division of labor is by definition alienation, the movement of the producer to a cog in the wheel of production. The triumph of Division of Labor is the triumph of civilization--

3) Your discussion of trade centers on the issue of surplus, without which there could be no Capital. Surplus is profit whether its a surplus I keep or trade away--and profit, the further alienation of the producer from his product by virtue of its comparison with the output of all other workers in the marketplace is quite simply the problem. When everything I do has a "value" that becomes the measure of who I am--

4) So how do people "trade" in an post-insurrectionary society? They don't. The method of exchange becomes the reality of the gift--we don't need to compare our various surplus products--it is yours as a gift. My expectation of your reciprocity is nil. Stop thinking in terms of an economy driven by dearth, starvation--think in terms of an economy driven by fecundity, by abundance.

5) If you don't get that you were forced, coerced to choose a paying employment in this nightmare called an economy, then you really are missing not only the boat, but the whole damn pier. What you do means nothing, if a slave can choose where to work are they still a slave? Damn right.

6) This isn't an attack....
answered Jan 3, 2014 by paulzsimons (560 points)
1)  Where can I find this definition of capital expounded?

2)  I'm still having trouble reconciling this definition of "division of labor" with the reality that everyone is not always (perhaps rarely ever) capable of producing everything they need and want to survive and thrive.  Unless you're saying that the more complex modern comforts (e.g. air conditioning, electricity, etc.) we have today would not exist in this "post-insurrectionary society" (at least, not as we're accustomed to them now).  

3)  So, people should only produce what they need and no more?  Perhaps that's a bit of a loaded question.  If profit (which you've defined her as surplus) is the problem, does that make it bad or unwanted according to your philosophy?  How does future planning effect the perception of what is considered surplus/profit?  Can a person grow/collect more food, firewood, water, etc. than they presently need in preparation for a future time when those things might be unavailable?

Regarding "value," I subscribe to the subjective theory of value, which essentially states *my* judgement of the usefulness of some thing at a particular time to me defines, for me, the "value" associated with that item.  Your judgement of the usefulness of that same thing to you may differ from mine.  For example, I'm in the desert and suffering from dehydration.  You, on the other hand, are in a cool, comfortable setting with a quenched thirst.  While we both objectively "value" water as a necessity to our biology, I, at that very moment, "value" water more than you as my life, at that very moment, requires that I consume some right away while you could literally go without water for days before being in a similar predicament.  In short, we all attribute some "value" to things (or none at all) based on our subjective determination of that thing's utility to us or its likelihood of satisfying some want or need of ours at a particular time relative to other things.  Now that you know what "value" means to me, could you define "value" as it fits your philosophy?

4)  I think this particular point is one we will likely never see eye-to-eye on but I'm interested in your response.  There are almost certainly going to be people who won't gift anything at all (what is the "punishment" for that?  Is there one?  How will "we" know if people are producing and keeping surplus?  How is it determined what "surplus" is?  These are honest question, though I know they are sometimes bait.  Again, just looking for your take on it.) but I recognize that's not enough to say "oh this won't work."  It's essentially the inverse of the free-rider principle that statists try to challenge ancaps on.  My real contention here is the assertion that abundance will be a reality.  My issue is two-fold: 1) surplus is considered profit (this is perhaps negated by your clarification to an earlier point) so there wouldn't be any abundance produced from the start, and 2) even if you allow surplus because it's not profit under some circumstances, where is this abundance coming from and how is anything close to the appropriate distribution known?  (I guess that's a total of 3 points)  Is there a "gift place" (analogous to a market place) where people can go to find things they want/need that other people created?  Is the implication then that people *must* produce surplus "gifts" because there are people that need some of these things to survive but are incapable for whatever reason of producing these things themselves?  How does thinking in terms of abundance and fecundity overcome the reality of people being unequal in terms of capability, thus some will necessarily depend on others for survival?  Wouldn't the producers that are being depended upon to produce surplus gifts wield power over the dependent (if not in practice, in principle?)?  Perhaps I'm way out in left field on this from your perspective (that's my assumption, anyway) so where have I gone wrong?  I'm most interested in the last three questions in particular.

5)  Here is another point you and I are bound to endless disagreement.  To live (that is, to not die) a person must consume a minimum amount of food and water and protect themselves from the weather in a manner compatible with our biology.  No philosophy can change that.  Whether living under a dictatorship, republic or anarchy (of your variety), a person must work.  That is a fact of our existence.  Work must be done to produce the things that sustain our lives.  I suppose that should make us a slave to our biology.  I'm almost certain we disagree on the definition or concept of something in here but it isn't obvious to me other than perhaps what qualifies as "work."

Thanks for responding.  I hope you'll continue.
+2 votes
A whole world of possibilities exists beyond the stifling economic categories which cloud the perception of ancaps and Marxists alike.

The question itself begs the question; wherefore this assumed legitimacy of private property? If you are referring to a time and place of anarchy then it would neither exist nor would it necessarily be sought after as such. If your just talking theory, then anarchist have no reason to value privet property as a social relationship and indeed have every reason to oppose it.

The fixed social relationships that enable the private ownership of land, as well as the resources extracted therefrom, empower the capitalist owners to structure commodity production into a centralized coordinated authoritarian endeavor. Thus we have division of labor; imposed not on free and equal individuals (as in your fictitious example implies), but on wage or chattel slaves.

The excessive simplicity of your scenario is absurd.
answered Jan 3, 2014 by skitter (3,950 points)
"The question itself begs the question; wherefore this assumed legitimacy of private property?"

Hmm...I've never yet been exposed to a workable refutation of private property (excluding land via Proudhon, Tucker, Carson et al). If we presume self ownership (let me know if you don't), then it follows that one must have the right to procure the resources and commodities necessary for one's subsistence and guarantee their use via ownership & control--ie, private property. One doesn't really own a car if one is prohibited from filling it with gasoline, procuring a license, sourcing training materials etc. to learn how to drive.

IMO, capitalism and the division of labor are not mutually inclusive.
The reinforcement, and or rebuilding of such a society, based as it is in fear, paints a dismal picture indeed. Rights, resources, commodities; these things are no more necessary for "subsistence" than they are for that of stateless societies. Division of labor is so much more than the mere differences of preferences and choices individuals make. It involves a separation of tasks centrally imposed onto workers within controlled fixed social environment. The fictitious scenarios you and other ancaps suggest imply a fluid temporary set of circumstances that are more conducive with a fictitious freedom as well as a total absence of coercion. The results of such social structures are much more static, fixed, and dismal.
skitter, i know i raised the spectre of ancaps, but i tried to do it by allusion. there is no reason to believe that NA/Saal are ancaps. they could just be curious caps. or something else altogether.
Human biology trumps wishy washy rhetoric. Resources such as clean water, food, and supplies for shelter are necessary for survival, and therefore subsistence. The right to procure those resources without the approval of any other entity (ie, authority, whether State or community) is necessary for autonomy--meaning self ownership.

Your loaded emotional reaction to the phrase "division of labor" does not define the reality of the term. Again, human beings require certain resources for survival. Certain other resources or commodities--such as medicines, climate control in one's shelter, etc--help to enormously raise the standard of living of individuals as well as their lifespan. Certain "luxury" resources/commodities--books, computers, art--provide pleasant leisure to some human beings.

Almost everything beyond the basic requirements of food, water, and shelter require some degreee of division of labor for the purpose of specialization. To state that the division of labor is only possible via centralized coercion is nonsensical. Last night I washed dishes and my girlfriend dried them. We did this because it allowed us both more time to enjoy more time in each others company without distraction. No one was coerced, no one was in charge.

You can either accept some amount of voluntary specialization or say goodbye to doctors, engineers, plumbers, and any number of other professions which allow for a long lifespan and high standard of living. This is fact, however dismal you may find it.

And I am no ancap, although I can understand how your narrow, rigid worldview could lead you to believe so.
"To state that the division of labor is only possible via centralized coercion is nonsensical."

Right, which is why I stated that DOL is "so much more than"....."voluntary specialization" of relatively innocuous household tasks. That, as such is fine, yet this does not speak to a wider application of the principle and how it manifests in authoritarian society at large.

Specialization (as opposed to division of labor) is great for any and all individuals, thus it matters even less to me what your political views are. The development of a multiplicity of skills and experiences is certainly to be encouraged. Perhaps you can excuse me, as my own "narrow, rigid worldview" perceives a distinction between the two.

Thanks DOT, point taken.
The OPP specifically asked for a clarification of definitions. If you were only intending to condemn the current authoritarian manifestation of the DOL you should have stated so, thus avoiding any misunderstanding.

I apologize for the personal attack; it was uncalled for. In my defense, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one around here that considers being called a capitalist of any flavor damn near the worst insult in the book ;)
"A whole world of possibilities exists beyond the stifling economic categories which cloud the perception of ancaps and Marxists alike. "

upvoted for that alone.